Check out the latest info and research from Coach Chris' explorations in the Subject of Internal Power.
In Traditional Chinese theory there is a point in the middle of the lumbar region of back that is believed to be the centre of ‘Vitality’ and where the original life essence of the individual is based, this point is called the ‘Ming Men’.
Located at between the L2 & L3 vertebra, a couple of inches above the line of the Iliac crest in most people, this point is of foundational importance to Chinese Medicine and their associated practices. It is thought to be responsible for ‘warmth’ in the body, for fuelling correct metabolic action and organ function in these traditional systems.
The idea of this point as the ‘origin’ is an interesting one because it is in this very area that the human embryo begins to develop, the familiar curved spine growing out from this start point. Delving into the importance of this point in the Chinese Medical practices is an interesting one, but in this post I would like to talk a little about some of the other ways in which we can utilise this point of the body. So lets dig into a couple of ideas relating to this area of the back and why they can help us to create power, mobility and health through correct training.
One of the Tissue Nexus’
Firstly we can think of the Ming Men as the Nexus for the Fascia and related tissues of the back. We could describe it as being like a junction, where all of the various strands and sheets of tissue join together, linking the entire body. This point, or general area, is located at the centre of the Lumbar fascia which, as discussed in previous posts, is responsible for our stability, load management and for other tissues like those of the abdomen to work with.
When we use the Ming Men as a juncture for all the tissue of the back and their relationship with those of the front, we can begin to monitor and feel how the movement practices of the internal arts tug and pull on seemingly separate body parts. Appreciating this interlinking of the body through the lumbar fascia is perhaps one of the first steps that can transform our practice. This is because it allows us to alter position or movement in line with what we actually feel in this area, it is an excellent method for making tiny self adjustments to maximise our practices.
Pairing front and back
Secondly we can actually work with this tissue nexus as the start and end point of opening or closing in the back. This can be combined with the opening and closing of the ‘front’ of the body originating in the Qi Hai point. When combining these two actions simultaneously and in harmony I call the process ‘Pairing’.
This is to say that we can focus on the Ming Men as a point from which all of the tissues stretch out when opening, or pull in towards when closing. In one of my favourite methods for this we feel the connection from the Ming Men to the Little fingers and open all the way to their tips, then pull from them back to the ming men (all while moving only and inch or so!)
The utility of this method of opening and closing the back, when combined with the simultaneous opening and closing of the front is that it allows us to create huge forces actually within our frame and base. Much like the Taiji or ‘yin yang’ symbol, we have two actions occurring simultaneously, in harmony but opposition with each other. Imagine utilising the entire muscle chain and associated fascia of the back half of the body, from the heels to the little fingers in an opening movement. While simultaneously the entire front closes. Thats a lot of power in a little space!
A Marker for movement
In the previous article we discussed the spine wave, which actually passes through the Ming Men as it travels up the spine and splits at the shoulders. During our training, we can use the Ming Men as a marker or focal point to understand the travel of the wave through the Lumbar region. The other point we use as a marker in this wave is at T5 which is another nexus, this time for the upper back bridge, that is often related to the Heart or Pericardium in Chinese Medicine.
But aside from that unique method of waving the spine, the Ming Men can actually be a very useful marker for a wide variety of movement directions and methods. For instance, we can see it used as a marker during some of the palm changes and circle walking found in Ba Gua, where rotation and torque are common and the acute appreciation of these forces on the body are vital.
A marker for Health
Finally, one of the ways in which we can assess the general health of the body is to look at and examine the strength, stability and range of motion in the joints and spine. If the joints are unhealthy, the spine feels stiff or sore, or there is a systemic problem across the bodies movement capacity as a whole it can be a good indicator that something is occurring with the persons general health. Lumbar pain for instance can often be related to dietary choices, to hydration levels, to poor proprioception, many things that may not immediately spring to mind.
When we have worked with the Ming Men for some time is actually becomes one of the ‘go to’ markers for assessing our general level of health and vitality. We can use a specific set of stretches, while monitoring the feeling in this area of the spine and lumbar Fascia, to check the health of our connective tissue as a whole for instance. If we feel tightness or discomfort where there was none, then it can be an indicator that a certain lifestyle change may be having an negative impact on your health and vitality over all.
So, outside of the Traditional Medical Theory and the associated healing practices, we can see that the Ming Men point and general area are extremely practical models, markers and physical realities to help us improve our internal power, health and body wisdom.
Often it all starts in that little point of the back.
In the internal arts one of the main focus’ of training is to obtain a type of equilibrium. Indeed, in previous posts I have discussed the utilization of opposites in the body to ensure that, even during motion, this equilibrium and balance is maintained. But in this post I would like to look at a specific method that falls outside of the equilibrium idea. It is the idea of using postures with a bias in a certain direction, or a seemingly un-even position in order to heal or ‘equalize’ a practitioner. I call this process, utilizing postural bias.
We have seen in previous posts how the use of equal and opposite action within the body can be used in the process I call ‘pairing’. But why then, even in my own system, do we sometimes see postures where there is a clear bias in a certain direction and what does the term ‘Postural Bias’ actually mean?
One of the biggest hurdles to overcome for the beginner of internal training is their ability to relax. Often they will be unable to even lift their arm without building isolation tension in the shoulder, and no matter how hard they ‘try’ they simply don’t have the control to relax specific muscles or areas of tension. In these cases a coach or teacher will often instruct the pupil to use their exhalation as a tool to guide the relaxation of the body.
Whole body power forms the bedrock of the internal arts. Our abilities to move every part of our body in harmony is as fundamental to the health benefits as it is to the martial effectiveness found in these styles. In this article we will explore one aspect of this whole body work, which I call the attribution of effort technique.
In the internal arts we often use the term ‘Bridging’ in relation to contacting with the partners arms. But there is another use for this term that relates to the connection of the arms to the torso and it is that connection that we will explore in this post.
The Arm or upper body bridges are the front and back connections of the arms into the torso and are one of the major development focuses for the Internal Martial Artists. They are perhaps one of the most important areas of focus for practitioners due to the common misalignment and systemic tensions from poor posture or lifestyle that can manifest in them.
One of the initial focuses of Internal Arts training is to create a body that is connected and structured with healthy tissue. If you look at virtually any physical training methodology you will see the initial sections of their training devoted to alignment, strength, endurance and connection. Internal Power Training is no different, but the strength and endurance we are looking to build has a alternative quality.
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